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Texas sues to block Syrian refugees from settling in state

Refugee protest

People in Austin, Texas, protest in November against Gov. Greg Abbott’s refusal to allow Syrian refugees in the state.

(Erich Schlegel / Getty Images)

Texas officials have sued the federal government to stop half a dozen Syrian refugees headed to Dallas this week, the latest in a series of efforts by state leaders to curtail the resettlement of Syrian refugees here.

Texas officials filed a lawsuit in Dallas federal court late Wednesday seeking to delay the refugees’ arrival by at least a week, until a judge can hear the case.

The officials argue that the federal government and the agency resettling the refugees, the International Rescue Committee, have kept them “uninformed about refugees that could well pose a security risk to Texans.”

“Members of the federal executive branch have expressed concern regarding this massive expansion of refugees from an area engulfed in fighting with ISIS,” the lawsuit says, noting, “Texas has the sovereign authority and duty to protect the safety of its residents.”

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Officials with the refugee agency and the State Department did not respond to requests for comment.

When Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, announced he opposed resettling Syrian refugees in Texas after the Nov. 13 Paris attacks due to security screening concerns, the International Rescue Committee refused to stop the resettlement process. State officials sent the committee a letter Nov. 25 threatening legal action, and the committee responded by offering to work with the state, but not to stop helping the refugees.

On Wednesday, state officials sent the group and the State Department letters requesting “all information relating to Syrians slated or scheduled for resettlement in Texas during the next 90 days” and demanding the refugee committee contact them by 3 p.m. and agree to cooperate and halt resettlement. According to the lawsuit, filed after the deadline, the refugee agency refused.

“We have been working diligently with the International Rescue Committee to find a solution that ensures the safety and security for all Texans, but we have reached an impasse and will now let the courts decide,” said Brian Black, a spokesman for the state’s Health and Human Services Commission.

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Abbott said the resettlement agency had offered “absolutely no guarantees” about safety ahead of the refugees’ arrival.

“It is irresponsible for the refugee resettlement operations to put aside any type of security interest and continue to press on about this,” Abbott said, speaking to reporters on a conference call from a business trip to Cuba.

Donna Duvin, executive director of the International Rescue Committee’s Dallas chapter, said Wednesday before the lawsuit was filed that the group did not plan to stop resettling Syrians.

Duvin said her organization had worked well with the state in the past, adding: “We believe we can address some of the governor’s concerns as well as take care of our refugee families.”

Anne Marie Weiss-Armush, president of DFW International, a network of internationally focused groups based in Dallas, knows the Syrian family involved in the lawsuit brought by the state. Members of that family have already settled in the Dallas area. DFW International and donors helped furnish their home after they arrived in February.

Faez al Sharaa, 28, a father of two, works at Wal-Mart and was hoping to welcome his half brother, sister-in-law, their two children and parents.

“Tomorrow Faez’s relatives will leave Jordan with a ticket in his hand. The clock is ticking,” Weiss-Armush said.

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“The governor’s actions are 1) not in the interest of U.S. foreign policy, 2) not in the interests of humanitarian principles, and 3) not in the interests of the citizens of Texas, who may suffer from the withdrawal of federal funding if Texas violates federal nondiscrimination acts,” she said.

Weiss-Armush noted that the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement had told refugee agencies in a letter last week that it could be forced to cut funding to states that discriminate against particular refugees.

Abbott is among more than 30 governors, mostly Republicans, who vowed to stop new Syrian refugees from settling in their states.

Texas currently accepts more refugees than any other state, including about 240 Syrian refugees since 2011.

Twitter: @mollyhf

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